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Subject: STEAM – Why change that…? …and why not that…? rss

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David Gezelius
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When I open a completely new game, I tend to accept the rules as they are.
They are, so to speak, “The Law” carved in stone.

But in a remake, like Steam, the rules are no longer absolute truths. They have become relative.
They have been changed, meaning that they may be changed, meaning that if one finds a better solution to a problem there is nothing stopping that it may be changed again!

I have played Age of Steam, of which Steam is a remake.
And when I play Steam I find myself thinking: “Yeah, that’s good, that fixes that problem!” or maybe, in another situation, “why have they changed it that way?”

So, the first thing I did (even while reading the rules) was to think of how to change things.
A remake, not being an absolute truth, somehow wakes my urge to do so.

I like the idea of streamlining things to make game play run smoothly. I therefore like Steams attempt to do so. But I find that Steam, in some cases, has not gone far enough and in other cases have created new problems.

I have a few major and minor suggestions. Starting with a major thing:

URBANIZATION.

THE PROBLEM.
This just becomes TOO big a thing. Too important and too complex.
It includes: 1. Which city to choose. 2. Where to place it. 3. Which cubes to choose.
Points 1 and 2 you also have in AoS.
But point 3 differs a lot.
Firstly; in AoS you cannot choose freely which cubes to take, as that is already chosen at the beginning of the game (and there are also only two of them, as compared to three in Steam).
Secondly; the goods piles in Steam will either contain some ‘goodis’ and some not so good stuff (making a choice very difficult and time consuming), or a pile might contain only good stuff (making the choice too good).
And thirdly; the cubes immediately go into play (which is not the case in AoS).
This third point will likely cause everyone to have an opinion on where you should place the cubes, as it may often favour a player dramatically right away if you place a certain cube on a certain space. Which means, that even if you are not yourself AP prone, you will probably get a lot of help to think and rethink every possible city placement on the board.

MY SUGGESTION
· During Setup. On each City tile, place a row of 3 randomly drawn cubes from the bag .
· When you choose Urbanization, the City tile together with the cubes are placed on the board.
· When you choose Move, the cube to the right is taken first, then the middle one and lastly the left one.

These changes ought to make the choices less overwhelming (read: less slo-o-ow!) and the Urbanize Action less powerful. Taking the cubes in a certain order also gets the time aspect from AoS back (something I not only like in itself, but also think ought to soften the effect of the choices).
(I also suggest that the City tiles are placed on the first eight Goods Supply Spaces. Only the bottom four spaces are used for Production).

PRODUCTION

THE PROBLEM
Here the problem is to some extent the same as the one described above:
3 cubes taken from one of 12 piles; too much to consider, too dramatic an impact.

MY SUGGESTION
· During Setup. Three random cubes are placed in a row (as was done on the city tiles) on each of the bottom four Goods Supply Spaces.
· When you choose Production, the cubes you take from a Goods Supply Space go on to the board together with a City Growth Marker. If there still are cubes from the original set up in the chosen City, these are placed ‘disorderly’ at the bottom of the City, with the ‘tidy’ new row above.
· When you choose Move, an original cube or the cube to the right in the row may be taken first. (As with Urbanization the cube to the right in a cube row must always be removed before the next in the row may be taken, thus introducing the new cubes gradually into the game.)
· A Goods Supply Space is refilled (from the bag) when emptied (introducing a fresh possibility).

Once again, less choices will speed up the game and the ‘time element’ will make things less urgent and also more fun in my opinion.

(If the idea of the row of cubes seems unclear, imagine the following: If the goods had been disc shaped and thereby easy to stack one could, instead of a row, make a stack of three goods. Then it would be quite clear, that what is not covered is free to be moved. I think however that the cubes would too easily fall over if stacked.)


VP FOR LINKS

My first reaction was: ‘Yes! Good to get rid of that old track counting.’
First all this silly search for a final track laying, with no other cause than to get that marginal little extra point (that often every one would get anyway, thus making no or little effect).
But then my second thought was, that in a one way the old system made sense. It rewarded laying long track. And without someone laying long track it all gets rather cramped.
Usually laying long track does not give you maximum effect as regards Goods Movement. You might also have had to choose Engineer at the expense of another action. In addition you will have had extra expenses for building track.
With the Steam-system, building the shortest possible stretches between cities gets rewarded thrice. First through better Movement efficiency, second through less expenses and thirdly through getting more VPs.

MY SUGGESTION
· Skip VP for track/links entirely!

The old system was clumsy, but evened things out. The new system, I find, is unfair.
Here again, this would also get rid of some time wasting mini-optimisation.


P.S. Would be happy for reactions!

‘Frogman’


 
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Richard Dewsbery
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Some of your suggestions - either in the form that you worded them or some slightly different but similar form - were considered. And rejected, for sound reasons.

VP for track/links in particular was thought about pretty extensively, and for a while the rules in Steam were indeed no VPs for track/links. The way it ended up was the way that the designer and publisher felt worked best for the game (and in particular doing away with any reward for track building tended to stall all building in the last 2 or 3 turns, so they made the right choice).

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Clint DeSena
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I kinda like that actions like Urbanization are pretty strong. It makes the auction for turn order (standard game) much more intense.
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Daniel Corban
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I have found the easiest "fix" for Urbanization is to play using the base rules. Having to pay $6 and go last in the following turn order is not to be taken lightly.
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Anthony Simons
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Like Richard said, some of your suggestions were tried in earlier versions, and mostly rejected for good reasons.

I feel pretty much anything is worth a try if you would prefer to introduce variants; but the restriction on the order of movement of goods would not be welcome at all here. The reason is simple; it requires too much effort for too little gain.

One would have to keep track of what was next to ship; despite the suggestion of how this would be dealt with I don't think it would be that easy. Worst of all, it would lock up cities if there was actually nowhere for the first cube in line to go. This is not the way the old production system used in AoS worked and certainly not how it should work in Steam.

I'm sure that fixed order shipments would open up a new level of strategy, but without further development of other game elements it would not sit correctly. I think it is a fine variant, don't get me wrong, but it can't really be used in isolation - you need another rule or six to go with it.
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Randall Bart
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Frogman wrote:

MY SUGGESTION
· Skip VP for track entirely!


RDewsbery wrote:
VP for track/links in particular was thought about pretty extensively, and for a while the rules in Steam were indeed no VPs for track/links. The way it ended up was the way that the designer and publisher felt worked best for the game (and in particular doing away with any reward for track building tended to stall all building in the last 2 or 3 turns, so they made the right choice).


I agree with David; Martin got this rule wrong. Track building for points is not quite literally pointless, but it is severely point challenged.

The alleged problem is a stall in end game track building. From my experience, that is correct. Very few tracks would ever be built on the last two turns without this rule. So? This is a problem only if you label it one. Someone thinks it looks wrong for the rail building era to end. Just look at the quote at the beginning of the rules; track must be built even without cubes to deliver.

We could have the last two turns zip by, with just a couple hexes of track building and several big cube moves. Instead, we have people looking all over the map, in places they have ignored all game, building a link here or two links there, often spending a minute or longer scratching out one lousy victory point.

And let's just suppose that you manage to build two links on each of the last two turns, and you make four points on links to nowhere. Now aren't you John Henry mighty rail building man collecting those four points? Nope. You just think you got four points.

It's last turn of the game. You could end at $2 income and get 1 VP for it, but instead you take your income down to $0 for $10. But when you pay loco maintenance you won't have $2, so you set aside $2 and you have $8. What do you do with your $8? You might get lucky and build a single hex for $2 between two cities. More likely it costs at least $4, maybe $5. Sometimes you upgrade a town for $5 and put two links to it for $2 each. You made 2 VP, but it cost you $9 (up to $13 with terrain). Sometimes by the time it comes around to you there is no good place to build and you spend $9 for one link. It looks like you made 1 VP, but you are actually down a dollar, and we all spent two minutes watching you find that $9 link.

Looking at the penultimate turn, you are giving two turns of income, so you give up 1 VP for $6. Good luck making more than 1 VP for your $6.

So y'all need to realize that Martin Wallace is a mere mortal and not all his rules were handed down on Mount Sinai. People spending time scratching out fractions of VPs while cubes zip by for 5 and 6 VP apiece is not the pinnacle of game design.

Solutions:
Presuming that Saint Martin grants us leave to tinker with the rules, I see these options.

1) Skip VP for track
David and I both suggested this as the first remedy for the near pointlessness of late track building, so this is clearly the pinnacle of game design. Unfortunately Saint Martin has already reject this on thematic grounds.

2) Skip VP for positive income
Basically, this forces you to capitalize down to zero income at game end, then you have bunch of cash you need to spend on track. This elevates the final track building from fractions of VPs to VPs. Still, 2 VP on the last turn is not a lot.

3) Award 3VP per link
This elevates link building to the level of cube moving. You might get 6 VP on the last turn, which is comparable to a cube move. It's actually less than a 6 VP cube move, because you had to pay for the track. I could even go as high as 4 VP per link. It's a significant shift of the game balance, but it looks pretty good to me. Because these VPs come at the end, you still must move early cubes or die.
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Jim Cote
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Barticus88 wrote:
...Saint Martin...

I suspect decisions like VPs for track are not handed down to the publisher on stone tablets, but result from hundreds of games by the playtesters. No designer worship is involved.
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Bill J
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Inspired by the black cubes, I came up with this idea a few days after opening the box. I have no idea if the playtest group already considered this or not. Nor do I know if it meets the critical standards of the Steam community. In the end, this is just a suggestion - for entertainment purposes only.

When I've tried it, it adds some luck to the game, frees up money and reduces the fear of debt, acts as an incentive to develop the grey tiles, and makes the VP track feel more like a race. It also gives those lagging behind a new chance by going for the high-risk black cube delivery industry.

It uses the black cubes.

Oil Variant
I thought of the black cubes as "Oil" and could be delivered for an increased amount (say 2 for each link - 1 VP and 1$ or 1 VP, players choice) to a grey city.

The key difference occurs during setup when the black cubes are placed in the bag *after* all the other commodities have been placed on the production track and on the map during game setup. Thus, players may go for the commodities on the board in the regular fashion - a sure thing, OR they may "drill for oil" during the URBANIZATION or CITY GROWTH phases. Whatever is pulled from the bag is what the player gets. They may 'strike it rich' or not.
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jim b
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BillJ1967 wrote:
... a suggestion for entertainment purposes ... the black cubes as "Oil" could be delivered for an increased amount (say 2 for each link - 1 VP and 1$ or 1 VP, players choice)

Ted Alspach's 1830's Pennsylvania introduces a similar idea - treating the gray cubes as coal. Pennsylvania offers a bonus for delivering a gray cube: you can either deliver coal across 2X your current loco level, or you can make a normal delivery for 2X points. (When you make the delivery, you choose the bonus.)

If you offered 2X shipment rewards, I'd maintain that the player still should choose either VP or income. (If he can can split it, it makes it way easier to casually supplement income late-game.)
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Pasta Batman
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Barticus88 wrote:
The alleged problem is a stall in end game track building. From my experience, that is correct.

From my experience, that is incorrect. In my games, compared to the deep think folks go into for many decisions, players tend to make these points-for-links decisions very quickly, taking time proportional to the points involved.

Quote:
Very few tracks would ever be built on the last two turns without this rule. So? This is a problem only if you label it one.
I have not seen anyone label that as a problem to be solved. Rather, I think points-for-links just enhances the game by providing a small but significant alternative source of points. I happen to find it thematic as well.
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jim b
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pastabatman wrote:
.. points-for-links just enhances the game by providing a small but significant alternative source of points. I happen to find it thematic..

Indeed - 'points for links' is the whole economic thrust of the game.

This issue seems a particularly weak example to support the OP - 'why change that? and why not that?': AoS VP for individual track segments are complicated, reward inefficient track building, inflate track segment builds artificially, and lead to end-game-wonkery with town spokes.

I disagree that AoS is somehow more 'fair': long links are not otherwise efficient, while many links are. Steam's end-game scoring respects that, so I prefer it - it's straightforward, and stays within the game's overall economic values. (Note - it doesn't pay off to build links just for vps, unless you already have the cash in hand.)

edit - minor wording
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Randall Bart
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pastabatman wrote:
Rather, I think points-for-links just enhances the game by providing a small but significant alternative source of points. I happen to find it thematic as well.

Check my math and tell me how it's significant. Thematic doesn't justify dull. The final moves are tediously dull, because Martin had balanced points for end game income up against points for links so closely. People say it's not thematic to have people stop building tracks the last couple turns. Okay, then thematically reward track building at 3 VP per link.
 
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Anthony Simons
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Barticus88 wrote:
pastabatman wrote:
Rather, I think points-for-links just enhances the game by providing a small but significant alternative source of points. I happen to find it thematic as well.

Check my math and tell me how it's significant.

He was talking about all of the points, not just those gained in the last turn. It doesn't take much time to work out if it's worth it either.

Barticus88 wrote:
Thematic doesn't justify dull. The final moves are tediously dull, because Martin had balanced points for end game income up against points for links so closely. People say it's not thematic to have people stop building tracks the last couple turns. Okay, then thematically reward track building at 3 VP per link.

Why is it not thematic to stop building track?

You're quite correct that in many cases it is not beneficial to pay for track in the endgame; but the whole point is that it's not supposed to be. The whole point of building track should, thematically, be to ship goods over it.
 
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Barticus88 wrote:
pastabatman wrote:
Rather, I think points-for-links just enhances the game by providing a small but significant alternative source of points. I happen to find it thematic as well.

Check my math and tell me how it's significant.

As Anthony said, it is significant across the span of the game - we're typically talking 10+ points. Early to mid-game I will sometimes build a cheap link with no immediate purpose, other than to garner that one point, and hope to find it useful later on. Take away the point and I will be much less prone to build it, and I think the overall game would suffer for it.
Barticus88 wrote:
Thematic doesn't justify dull. The final moves are tediously dull, because Martin had balanced points for end game income up against points for links so closely.

I don't find it dull in my games because, frankly, we're just not investing a bunch of time in it. Comments are usually similar to 'Hmmm... not much I want to do here ... oh well, I'll just build this link here." By far the fastest turns of the game. If it was sucking huge amounts of time, I might be looking at the variants you're promoting. But it isn't.

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Jack Neal
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After having played both systems, I find I actually prefer AoS over Steam, and I never thought that would be the case. Keep in mind as well that I am a newcomer to both systems; I have been extremely levelheaded with regard to both of them so I don't consider myself a shill or turncoat for any party or clique.

Take with a bucket of salt...

Things to like about Steam (Base):
- Plays more quickly.
- No auction and no shares appeals to beginning players (myself included).
- Easier to grasp urbanization and city growth. Take a clump of cubes, drop it on a place and you're done.
- Links at end are easier to count than AoS.
- City Growth feels more powerful than in AoS.
- No income reduction needed. AoS feels hokey with this (

Things to like about AoS:
- Simpler rules. (Yeah, I said it.) The rules are stark but pretty well written. (Yeah, this is subjective, too).
- Shares for loans. The game forces you to think about
- No dual track. What you got is what you get.
- No clumps of cubes. Cubes trickle on the board by Lady Luck's decree. This makes the game that much more interesting to me. The order of what comes through is more important. In Steam, once they are spent, you're done.

Coming from Steam to AoS was difficult because I was always thinking I needed cash for loco, urb and city growth for each of those actions. Once I realized that I won those actions at auction for whatever I had thrown at them, the game eased up considerably. However, I enjoyed my AoS experience.

However, I tend to like more complicated games and my kids probably wouldn't have played AoS with me out of the get go (and still won't). So I play whatever I can get my hands on.

Anyone privy to the development of Steam know when shares were dropped from the design? I find I miss this and I wonder how much grief it would take to reintroduce as a variant.


Thanks,

J.
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fellonmyhead wrote:
Barticus88 wrote:
People say it's not thematic to have people stop building tracks the last couple turns. Okay, then thematically reward track building at 3 VP per link.

Why is it not thematic to stop building track?

I don't think it is unthematic. But neither is rewarding someone for 'merely' building a link. I find it perfectly thematic to liken the link point to a minimum of income generated by providing parcel and passenger service to some podunk town. I don't want to emphasize this too much, as Steam is by no stretch a simulation. But I do find the link point a lot more justifiable than getting more points for shipping the longest possible route.
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Randall Bart
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jimb wrote:
Indeed - 'points for links' is the whole economic thrust of the game.

fellonmyhead wrote:
The whole point of building track should, thematically, be to ship goods over it.

I am glad we have that established.
 
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J C Lawrence
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I am not fond of either track-points model as they are inconsistent with the rest of the design, and with the decision processes in flight at the time the track is built. At the time a player is building (required) track the question of how many tiles are involved, or that it is a new link or not is irrelevant to the necessity of the track. The track is needed in order to deliver one or more cubes, finis. One spends the money, lays the tiles, delivers the cubes. Track scoring is not a significant part of the picture at this point.

I see track-scoring as a (minor) mar on both games and I'd be quite happy if track scoring were removed from both games. Of course that would increase the rate of tied games, which some players would not like, and this is likely the real justification for track scoring: a mostly irrelevant addendum to scoring that frequently acts to differentiate tied players. As I don't find that valuable, I'd be happier with track-scoring removed and thus a simpler/cleaner end-game resolution -- even if that meant more tied games. Chacun a son gout.
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Daniel Corban
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In almost every game of Steam so far, the final contenders have had the same number of links anyway.

I find that in most cases, the track you lay only gives you as many points as you lose from issuing shares. Our games usually have useful track being built on all but the final turn.

I do agree that the time spent by players in the final turn scanning the board for that random leftover 2 hex build that will give them 1 point is a waste. However, I also favor the idea that track should be worth something. The Age of Steam method rewards excessive building (especially in the case of towns), while the Steam method rewards minimal building. In my experience with both games, the minimal building seems to consume less time.
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J C Lawrence
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dcorban wrote:
In almost every game of Steam so far, the final contenders have had the same number of links anyway.


This is true for Age of Steam as well. Typical track scores in a 4 player game of Age of Steam are pretty heavily centred on 21 points with a standard deviation of ~1.5. I really don't find that interesting.
 
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Jim Cote
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If you need a thematic reason for building track, consider that the cubes are the really big delivery contracts, but that the links themselves also serve a number of much smaller deliveries which provide a small amount of profit.
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clearclaw wrote:
At the time a player is building (required) track the question of how many tiles are involved, or that it is a new link or not is irrelevant to the necessity of the track. The track is needed in order to deliver one or more cubes, finis. One spends the money, lays the tiles, delivers the cubes. Track scoring is not a significant part of the picture at this point.

I build track to add links all the time, for the specific purpose of longer shipments.
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jimb wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
At the time a player is building (required) track the question of how many tiles are involved, or that it is a new link or not is irrelevant to the necessity of the track. The track is needed in order to deliver one or more cubes, finis. One spends the money, lays the tiles, delivers the cubes. Track scoring is not a significant part of the picture at this point.


I build track to add links all the time, for the specific purpose of longer shipments.


Precisely. The track is necessary for the (longer) delivery. Its primary function is not track-scoring.
 
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jim b
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Agreed - the fact that it's one or more links is what's important (to that end).
 
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jimb wrote:
Agreed - the fact that it's one or more links is what's important (to that end).


Right, important to the delivery, not as track-VPs, That's my point.
 
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